dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

How to Succeed as a University President (unpublished)

August 15th, 2014 · 5 Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

[Note: I offered the newspaper two versions of this essay. One speculated how final conversations might have gone, and this one did not. This is the version they did not choose to publish.]

Nobody would ever suggest that the job of a university president is an easy one, especially at the University of Oregon, and especially lately. Balancing the competing constituencies has been expressed succinctly. “To keep everybody happy, you have to make sure that alumni are getting enough football and basketball, students are getting enough sex, and faculty is getting enough parking.”

Sure, it sounds simple. Nobody told me what happens when the needs for basketball and sex collide. Apparently, nobody told Gottfredson either.

On July 1, the state relinquished control of the university to an independent Board of Trustees. Wresting control from the state has been the long-term vision for the University of Oregon. It will be considered Gottfredson’s signature accomplishment.

George Pernsteiner, who was Chancellor of the Oregon University System, and the man who fired Richard Lariviere in 2011, has moved to Colorado, where’s he’s now president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Lariviere has moved on to be president of The Field Museum in Chicago.

These two powerful men are out of each other’s lack of hair. But here in Oregon, the search for a peaceable kingdom continues.

Last week, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees convened to accept UO President Michael Gottfredson’s resignation and to approve a $940,000 severance package for the absent and abruptly departed president.

Afterwards, board chairman Chuck Lillis insisted that both actions were voluntary and not interdependent. An exasperated public sighed, “Yeah, right.”

Gottfredson’s resignation letter was oddly not on University of Oregon letterhead. His signature omitted at least one of the letters in his name. It cited a trope as tired as the man must have been after the last few days he’d had. Gottfredson claimed his desire for more “time with family” to be the cause for his resignation.

Family time must have become suddenly urgent, because he gave the university one day’s notice. (I’m sure International Excuse Guidelines, if such a thing exists, must recommend some reference to “health concerns” when a resignation is paired with a sudden departure.)

If his scholarship were in literature instead of criminology, he might have quoted Robert Frost’s “The Death of the Hired Man”:

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.

Returning to a place where you are loved without conditions — that’s a universal desire. Professors often have the academic equivalent in tenure. Published reports claim Gottfredson’s tenure at the California university he departed two years ago was about to lapse, so that may have been the “scholarly interests” that “beckoned” him. We may never know.

We also may never know whether the Board of Trustees was displeased with their president. It may have been simply that they were given power to hire and fire their university president and they intended to use that power.

Willfully ignored last week was an odd coincidence. Forty years ago last week, headlines blared with the most famous resignation in American history. Richard Nixon also gave only one day’s notice.

Gottfredson was “not available” for comment beyond letters he wrote to the board and to the UO at large. Again, it provided a notable contrast with Lariviere, who sat for nearly an hour with the Oregon Daily Emerald’s reporters for a televised interview.

Gottfredson’s departure reminded me instead of a man still in university leadership and still under severe pressure.

When news broke in 2010 that Dana Altman was leaving Creighton after 16 years to become the head coach for the University of Oregon men’s basketball team, he tried to evade the press corps by taking a back door into the parking garage. A television news crew intercepted him there, where he had no comment.

“No comment” sometimes comments powerfully.

One of Gottfredson’s final acts as president was to appoint one of his campus allies to serve as the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative for the NCAA. Sports must have been on his mind when he wrote his final letter to the university, which ended with “Go Ducks!”

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 5 CommentsTags: Civic · Deep · Media · You-gene

UO President Quit? Yeah, Right

August 15th, 2014 · 3 Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Planning a trip to Chicago last month, I tried to catch up with former University of Oregon president Richard Lariviere. His first few months were rocky as the president of one of the world’s finest research museums, but The Field Museum seems now on better footing, and so does its president.

My request was denied. His wife Jan put it this way in a Facebook message: “We want to leave Eugene totally to the new administration. We hear things are going well at UO and we are very pleased.”

That was in April. On July 1, Lariviere’s central goal for the University of Oregon was accomplished. The state relinquished control of the university to an independent Board of Trustees. George Pernsteiner, who was Chancellor of the Oregon University System, and the man who fired Lariviere, has moved to Colorado, where’s he’s now president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

These two powerful men are out of each other’s lack of hair. But here in Oregon, the search for a peaceable kingdom continues.

Last week, the University of Oregon Board of Trustees convened to accept UO President Michael Gottfredson’s resignation and to approve a $940,000 severance package for the absent and abruptly departed president.

Afterwards, board chairman Chuck Lillis insisted that both actions were voluntary and not interdependent. An exasperated public sighed, “Yeah, right.”

Gottfredson’s resignation letter was oddly not on University of Oregon letterhead. His signature omitted at least one of the letters in his name. It cited a trope as tired as the man must have been after the last few days he’d had. Gottfredson claimed his desire for more “time with family” to be the cause for his resignation.

Family time must have become suddenly urgent, because he gave the university one day’s notice. (I’m sure International Excuse Guidelines, if such a thing exists, must recommend some reference to “health concerns” when a resignation is paired with a sudden departure.)

Lillis told reporters he learned of the president’s intended departure only a few days earlier, in a phone call. Reporters cannot speculate about a private conversation, but columnists can. Here’s how that conversation might have gone.

CL: We’d like you to leave.

MG: The Oregon University System extended my contract through June 2016.

CL: We could pay you for those two years.

MG: Is that a threat or a bribe?

CL: (silence)

MG: I don’t want to have to answer any questions.

CL: This will be just between you and me.

MG: My contract requires that I give 30 days’ notice.

CL: That won’t be necessary.

MG: (silence)

CL: I’ll look for your letter later today.

Now imagine how the same conversation must have gone between Pernsteiner and Lariviere in 2011.

GP: We want you to go.

RL: We all want things we cannot have.

GP: (silence)

RL: (silence)

Lariviere was fired. Gottfredson quit. But it sure didn’t look that way.

Willfully ignored was an odd coincidence. Forty years ago last week, headlines blared with the most famous resignation in American history. Richard Nixon also gave only one day’s notice.

Gottfredson was “not available” for comment beyond letters he wrote to the board and to the UO at large. Again, it provided a notable contrast with Lariviere, who sat for nearly an hour with the Oregon Daily Emerald’s reporters for a televised interview.

Gottfredson’s departure reminded me instead of a man still in university leadership and still under severe pressure.

When news broke in 2010 that Dana Altman was leaving Creighton after 16 years to become the head coach for the University of Oregon men’s basketball team, he tried to evade the press corps by taking a back door into the parking garage. A television news crew intercepted him there, where he had no comment.

“No comment” sometimes comments powerfully.

One of Gottfredson’s final acts as president was to appoint one of his campus allies to serve as the university’s Faculty Athletics Representative for the NCAA. Sports must have been on his mind when he wrote his final letter to the university, which ended with “Go Ducks!”

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 3 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · You-gene

Inventive Solution “Corners” Venerable Business

August 8th, 2014 · 1 Comment

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

When Pat Brooks reopens her family’s florist shop at 13th and Patterson in September, the name won’t be changed to Eugene’s Flower Condominium, but that wouldn’t be inappropriate.

After a couple of years in a temporary location on Harlow Road (which they now intend to keep), Brooks and her family soon will return Eugene’s Flower Home to the corner their business has always known. But now their shop will have 18-foot ceilings, brand new construction, and 100 student apartments overhead.

Brooks returned to Eugene in 1952 to help her father run his florist business. She has worked that business every day since. Now her son and daughter are partners and a granddaughter works there part-time while she finishes her degree at Oregon State University.

Situated near University of Oregon campus and Sacred Heart Hospital, they have always benefited from their prime location. But flowers are sold everywhere nowadays. Competition has multiplied. Sending flowers has gotten easier. Proximity matters less than it used to.

When local attorney-turned-developer Dan Neal approached Brooks about selling her building on that corner to make room for a student housing project, Brooks was equal parts polite and reticent. That location has fed her family since 1922, now beginning their fourth generation.

Neal’s project would have enveloped their small building and parking lot if Brooks decided not to sell. The surrounding building would have been five stories tall in the shape of an L, with frontage on both 13th Avenue and Patterson Street. Architect Paul Dustrud was working around the problem. Nobody saw it as an optimal situation.

Neal wanted more apartments. Dustrud wanted a more welcoming design. Brooks wanted to keep selling flowers.

“We didn’t want to give up our corner and it turns out we didn’t have to,” Brooks told me this week, as she and her family have begun plans to finish the interior of the shell that was completed last week. “We wanted to stay, but we really didn’t want to become renters. Dan was kind to work with us.”

Florist and developer “had many discussions over many months,” Neal recalled. “The family recognized that this would be the most opportune time to sell their building, but they didn’t want to leave the location and lose their livelihood.”

Neal has formed partnerships with landowners before, but the Brooks family didn’t want to become student housing real estate investors. They also had no appetite for the personal guarantee that banks would require of all partners taking out a multi-million dollar construction loan.

Neal offered them a novel solution. He would design a building that included commercial space for a new Eugene’s Flower Home and give the family a deed for that portion of the building. “Once they heard they can hold the title to their space,” Neal said, “the conversation shifted.”

“I guess it’s legally called a condominium,” Brooks said. “It just sort of evolved. I didn’t know it was so unusual. Dan just created a situation for us so we could have what we wanted.”

The Patterson is opening this fall with 100 apartments, 67 below-grade parking spaces, three commercial storefronts, and one condominium.

Neal doesn’t know of another instance where a single tenant in a large building has negotiated for ownership of their space. I can think of only one, but it’s not in Eugene. A butcher sold his corner plot for the equivalent square footage and an equity stake in a skyscraper in downtown Tokyo.

Did a financial tool used by the Mori Building Co. to complete the Roppongi Hills complex in downtown Tokyo find its way to Eugene? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Pat Brooks, along with her children and grandchildren, can keep selling flowers from that corner — as the family has for almost 100 years. And that we have local developers creative enough to make that possible.

We always know that things will change. Sometimes we know which things we want to keep the same. Finding ways to make those two fit together is the trick, and we should be glad when it happens.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ 1 CommentTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Small World · Urban Design · You-gene

Eugene Marathon: Focus on the Finish

August 1st, 2014 · No Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Bill Bowerman introduced distance running to Americans as a participatory sport. This was a wild re-imagination of the sport itself, originating right here in Eugene. He held “all comers” meets every Saturday from Hayward Field. He never stopped reaching out to young people, introducing them to a sport that required no equipment, no rules, no special skills. Just run.

Bowerman was always teaching. Running doesn’t matter. Winning matters even less. Life is what matters, and learning to run might teach you something about life. Winning is for a few, but everybody wants to live a better life.

Vin Lananna has not just followed Bowerman. He’s reincarnated him. Using Hayward Field’s mystique, he has wooed the highest powers in the sport. He has given Eugene (again) a unique success story. He hasn’t yet turned the sport on its ear with any radical reinventions. But he’s just getting started.

I enjoyed watching the Eugene Marathon last weekend. Like so many of you, I grabbed a lawn chair and a cup of caffeine and made my way to the closest viewing spot. From my neighborhood, I can watch the runners twice. It’s just past Mile Post 2 as they head south, then it’s Mile Post 6, when they come back to the north.

As the runners headed south, what I saw was a mass of humanity — large clumps of runners hanging together. Just four miles later, the racers had sorted themselves almost to single-file status. As I watched them heading north across Amazon Park, I imagined myself in a wedding receiving line. I could look at the face of almost every runner individually, and silently thank them for coming. (It must have been a terrible wedding, though, because none of my imagined guests could get away quickly enough.)

Here I have to admit that I’ve never bothered to watch the end of the race. Why? Because I lack the endurance. The fleetest of the full marathoners begin arriving shortly after 8 a.m. After that, it’s a steady stream of finishers until darn near noon.

That’s four hours of cheering for thousands of individuals. To be able to do that, I’d have to train for months, and who has the time for that?

The start of the race is much more satisfying. Six thousand runners, responding to a single starting gun — that can take your breath away! For that brief moment, athletes and audience are all sharing the same exhilaration. It’s like attending a wedding. You can’t watch without reliving your own vows.

That got me thinking, which is what I did during gaps between guests fleeing my imaginary wedding.

Racers all wear digital watches now, measuring their progress throughout the course, trying to stay on pace to achieve their hoped-for finish time. Only the elite runners are racing against one another in a marathon. Everyone else is simply trying to better their own best time — their own best self.

Winning isn’t usually a consideration, but excellence and improvement always are.

So here’s a radical idea. What if we hosted a staggered-start marathon? It would work like this. Every racer would state their goal for a finishing time. Organizers would sort the runners by their projected finish time, starting the slowest runners first and the fastest runners last.

If every runner reached their personal goal exactly, all the runners would reach the finish line at the same time. This would give Bowerman’s ultimate participatory sport what even Bowerman didn’t devise — a made-for-TV climax.

Fans would flock to the finish line to experience the drama. The first person across the finish line wouldn’t be the winner of the race, but the person who bettered themselves the most.

Instead of sorting thousands of competitors into the Winner and Everybody Else, they would sort themselves into better and worse than they had hoped.

Bowerman believed running was just like life. Doing the best you can is what should be celebrated. Shouldn’t we stage a race that demonstrates this?

Don’t overthink running or life. Focus on the finish. Do that and you’ve already won.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ No CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Deep · You-gene

Housing, Havens and Hash

July 25th, 2014 · No Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Not very long ago, the only cranes visible in Eugene were sandhill cranes in Delta Ponds heading south each autumn. But these days, Eugene hosts a bevy of taller cranes. Construction cranes loom above student housing projects, but will our economic ecosystem be able to support such a sudden surge?

More than a thousand new bedrooms are coming quickly available. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. Will they be filled this fall? The short answer is yes, if things stay the same. But things never stay the same, so here are three follow-up questions.

1. Will the Federal Reserve continue its policy of maintaining very low interest rates?

2. Will the University of Oregon’s national football brand continue to grow?

3. Will Oregon voters reject the legalization of marijuana for recreational use?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, then the current building boom will have reason to continue. If not, things will get more complicated.

Low interest rates have sent the investor class scurrying for safe but lucrative havens for their money. Investors who don’t want to send their money overseas have very few options to garner interest rates that approach 10 percent.

Large developers can show investors such impressive returns with university student housing projects. Their investment brochures can refer to a recession-proof revenue stream: federally administered student loans.

Alabama-based Capstone and Chicago-based Core Campus scour the country for college towns where student populations have been surging. Investors are attracted to Eugene, a town they have suddenly heard of. Thank you, ESPN.

Investors always look for assurances, and familiarity often fills that need. If you’re buying your first car, it helps that you’ve seen television ads of beautiful people being happy with that car. It’s less frightening if it feels familiar.

People investing millions in construction companies are no different. “Eugene, Oregon? Oh, I’ve heard of that place. Could you believe those neon-colored socks? I thought those colors would ruin our new television. Sure, put my money there.”

These buildings will fill up in the fall because they are new and they offer all the latest amenities. But those students will be moving out of other bedrooms around town, creating other vacancies. Older buildings will have a harder time attracting renters.

As renters have more choices, standards increase. Some landlords won’t meet those standards. They will put their buildings to other uses, or they will sell their properties.

Economists have a charming term for this cascading causality: creative destruction — “destruction” because the status quo crumbles, “creative” because something new takes its place. Once a four bedroom house a few blocks from the university no longer fetches $2,000 a month with no work from the owner, the unsolicited offer to buy the property for half a million dollars begins to look more attractive.

This is where the third question comes into play. Eugene’s ESPN-fueled reputation is contributing to this economic upswing, but an older reputation may counterbalance that momentum.

Two days ago I passed a young man with a dog, sitting in Kesey Square with a cardboard sign. “Why lie? Need money for weed.” I’m guessing the pitch works for him. In how many towns will that placard attract the same sort of response?

Denver, Boulder, Seattle, and Portland are not cities known for affordable rents and a low cost of living. If Oregon voters legalize marijuana in November, will Eugene attract a new group of people looking for a minimal living alternative?

Some of the most industrious people I know enjoy an occasional mind-altering inhalation. Legalizing drugs will always be a mixed (dime) bag. I have dozens of Frog’s joke books, but I’m not sure the venerable street peddler would rise to folk-hero status in other towns that may legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Will unscrupulous landlords defy the housing boom’s creative destruction by recruiting a new and lower class of renters, promising free Doritos and grow light fixtures with every annual lease?

Eugene has two new greens in its possible future: economic prosperity and pointy-leafed recreation. They may collide.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ No CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Urban Design · You-gene

Soccer, Politics, Life: Focus on the Goal

July 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

I enjoyed watching the final World Cup soccer tournament games partly because I didn’t particularly care about any of the remaining teams that were playing. Once you’re not distracted by the players or the teams, you can marvel at the endurance and acrobatics of what the world calls “the beautiful game.”

No one would suggest that local politics is a beautiful game, especially recently, but I’ve been watching the slugfest over sick leave in much the same way. I’m not particularly rooting for either side, allowing me to watch instead how the game is being played.

Businesses should find a way to pay employees who want to work but can’t. Employees who feel valued and trusted in this way might then be less likely to quit or lie or steal office supplies. Whether and how government should nudge employers toward that sort of enlightenment is an open question.

I don’t think restaurants should tell me their bathroom policies before they have shown me their menu, but that doesn’t mean I’d favor a government mandate. I’m content quietly refusing to patronize those establishments that think first about the pot in the back and second about the pot on the stove.

Workers can make choices about where they work, except when they can’t. Many need to keep the job they have — regardless of the company’s sick-leave policy — so maybe there’s a role for government to play. It’s a close call. I don’t know which side to root for.

Let’s return to soccer, if only because it’s a more pleasant topic.

Soccer still allows ties. If a tie must be broken, there’s a shoot-out — but only after an extended overtime period of regular play, and the final score still is recorded as the tie that it was. Sometimes things are just equal. There’s no getting around that.

A tie steadfastly refuses to exalt one team over another, lifting the sport itself above the teams that played. The institution of the game matters more than the teams on the field.

Many attribute to Vince Lombardi that winning or losing matters less than how you play the game. That quote has a longer, and deeper, history. Sportswriter Grantland Rice in 1908 was trying to make a larger point in Alumnus Football:

For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game.

Being a good sport is a good life strategy. In Rice’s view, it’s also — or especially — a good afterlife strategy.

I fear many Americans love winning more than sport itself. One football coach likened a tie to “kissing your sister.” The University of Oregon’s 0-0 tie with Oregon State University in 1983 is commonly referred to as “the worst football game ever.” But maybe the game was good and the teams were bad!

As Brazil was being blown out by Germany last week, Brazilian fans began booing their own team. I want to believe at least some of those fans were faulting their team for disgracing “the beautiful game.”

In much the same way, Hayward Field fans recently booed the Arizona track team because their coaches had sidelined a local competitor based on a technical lane violation. They weren’t booing a win or a loss. They were displeased with how the game was played.

And so we must return to the tussle between our local governments.

A majority on the Eugene City Council wants to require businesses to pay their sick (non) workers. The Lane County Board of Commissioners said “count us out.” If there’s a local umbrage shortage, it’s because our legislative leaders have been taking more than their share.

This newspaper’s editorial board, attempting to referee the skirmish, lifted yellow cards to each side in turn, scolding each for overreach. The issue is no longer about paid sick-leave policies. It’s not even about whether such policies should be regulated. It’s now about who gets to tell which employers what.

Politics is a “beautiful game” only when leaders work together to get things done. Winning isn’t everything. It’s how you play the game.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column most Fridays for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ No CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Psycho · Pure Pol · You-gene

Farewell to the Fare, Thanks to the Fair

July 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Oregon Country Fair has always specialized in the fantastic. Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean you can’t believe it’s true, or that it will become true. Tinker Bell was right. If we only believe, it can come true.

For example, fret-free public transportation across the region, available to all for any purpose, at no cost — wouldn’t that be fantastic? Thanks to the Oregon Country Fair, for the next three days, it’s also true.

Free shuttle busses to the Fair have been available for years, but leaders of the Fair chose this year to simply underwrite the entire cost of LTD’s system for all riders, for all three days — as if to say, “Skip the fare; come to the Fair.”

Leaders of the Fair take their citizenship seriously. They have slowly widened their influence and philanthropy beyond its entrance gates. First they reclaimed their own parking lots, then they began helping Veneta in strategic ways. Now they want to share a vision for less carbon-intensive travel with you, whether you’re planning to attend the Fair or not.

Considering transportation alternatives can be frightening, in part because we’ve learned (i.e. been persuaded) to attach our choices to our identity. A self-described bicycle activist once confided in me that his movement was focused too much on winning a few converts and too little on connecting with the many who are curious.

What if I left my car at home this weekend? How will I learn how to get where I’m going? How much will it cost me, in money and time?

This weekend we can ask those very private questions in a very public way. If it catches on, every bus stop might begin to resemble Orientation Weekend around campus. Those who use the system can make themselves available to help those who are new to it.

You can take the bus to work today, bringing some reading material that’s been following you for a week and weighing down your commuter bag.

Imagine getting to and from Saturday Market without worrying about parking. How much stuff would you buy at Costco or Winco if you didn’t have a trunk to fill? Have you ever taken your bike on the bus (#91) out McKenzie Highway past Blue River and ridden (part of the way) back? The Ems are playing at PK Park all weekend.

How would each of these activities be different, sans automobile? Aren’t you curious?

Bring a book or a friend, so the extra time won’t feel wasted. Almost any trip you take will be a little longer but a lot easier. You’ll spend more but better time, discovering new things.

Oregon Country Fair leaders have devised a clever alternative to purchasing carbon offsets, which function like modern-day indulgences, assuaging the guilt of event organizers and attendees. And so, good for them — providing car-free travel options to a couple hundred thousand neighbors is more satisfying than planting some trees in a bulldozed rain forest.

Who will follow these leaders? Oregon Bach Festival? TrackTown USA? Lane Transit District should promote this option to other groups and events. We love our reputation as a community committed to sustainability, so let’s get on board with this fare-free vision. We can move people from curious to occasional to regular users.

The benefits extend far beyond lessening carbon output. Riders will find themselves connecting in new ways — an unscripted Saturnalia festival, but in reverse. Once people leave their anonymizing fuel-combustion cages, they begin bumping into people they haven’t seen.

Urban planners refer to those unplanned connections as “collisions.” Skybridges connecting a parking structure with an office building are out. Better to spill commuters onto the street, where they might stop for a cookie or a latte or learn something new about their surroundings before they duck into their cubicle.

Once you remove the ton of metal and machinery between us, “collisions” become a serendipitous source of happiness and a building block for community.

So who will you bump into this weekend if you leave your car at home? There’s only one way to find out.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column most Fridays for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ No CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Urban Design · You-gene

We’re Trading Our Freedoms for Conveniences

July 4th, 2014 · No Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Between your picnicking and fireworking, today would be a good day to contemplate how freedom can be taken from a nation.

While we’re being horrified by brutal dictators far away, we must remember there’s another way freedoms can be lost — by persuasion. If people become convinced they need protection, they will sacrifice their freedoms. Ask any Mafia boss.

To see how this can be done effectively, take a trip. It starts at the airport, where you will stand in a line, waiting for your turn for minimally qualified agents with badges to scan your body and belongings and make a quick determination about whether you might be a threat.

You may have noticed that some are allowed to bypass the line as participants of the TSA Pre program. These people submitted fingerprints, passed a background check, and paid for the processing costs to be less inconvenienced in airports. Convenience becomes an alternative currency as this scenario unfolds.

Once inside the airport security, you are deemed relatively risk-free. You are safe from other travelers and they are safe from you. Enjoy your trip — you’re welcome.

Then you board the plane, where power again is wielded by people with badges and uniforms. This method of enforcing order with citizen compliance requires many badges and assorted uniforms. In extreme cases, specific headgear also may be required.

If a flight attendant deems you uncooperative because you put two bags in the overhead compartment or you refuse to use headphones with your iPad or you offer to sell your sandwich to another passenger, you can be removed from the plane. Authority cannot be questioned.

Most of us never make such trouble. Civility is converted into submissiveness.

You land in another city and exit the airport, wondering whether any inspectors opened your luggage along the way. You take a shuttle to your rental car, barely noticing the sign that informs all riders that the van is equipped with video and audio surveillance.

After the shuttle bus passes over the tire spikes that allow vehicles in but not out, you pass the attractive kiosk that is reserved for Gold Card members. You proceed to the larger, dingier building where the customers who don’t regularly do business here stand in line for inferior service.

Separating “good customers” from others is becoming more common. Rather than reward good customers, it’s cheaper to show them how they’ll suffer if they don’t do whatever is necessary to maintain their gold or elite or prime status. Non-gold customers are punished with undertrained and surly staff. But everyone gets a car, eventually.

Automobile travel once was the paragon of personal freedom. No more. Police now have automated license plate scanners. Intersections are equipped with cameras, often ready to snap your photo if you run a red light. Marriages have come undone because the photo is then mailed to the residence with a summons or a bill, showing who was in the car, when and where.

The cameras are used only to identify dangerous drivers. At least that’s what we’ve been told. But nobody disputes that the cameras could do much more, now that they are in place. Combined with credit card purchases, ATM and merchant cameras, retracing anyone’s steps has become disconcertingly easy.

Many states offer car-traveling citizens an improved version of what the Soviets crudely referred to as “checkpoints.” Our government can record your travel habits, charge you a toll, and whisk you on your way with an automated monitor that’s been rebranded as “EZ Pass.” It does everything the Soviet system envisioned, and more.

For even more specific location information, we all have our phones. This week I received an automated alert on my phone that a tornado warning was in effect for the area where I was visiting. Does anyone believe the government has the capability to send us such alerts without also knowing who received them?

The government sends those alerts to protect us, but are we losing the ability — or even the will — to protect ourselves? We cannot require both protection and independence.

Today remember — our protectors may not always be the ones we’d choose.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs

→ No CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · Pure Pol

Homework Before Education Contract Talks Continue

June 27th, 2014 · 2 Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

It appears that negotiations between the Eugene School District and the Eugene Education Association have stalled. Neither side will characterize the situation as an impasse, because educators know that words matter. But also nobody has described the current positions of the school board and the teacher’s union as “close.”

Negotiators now are planning to take a break until August, resuming their work just weeks before the new school year begins. I suppose they can insist, as high schoolers who have been given a summer reading list often do, that they do their best work under pressure. Putting things off for a month is no big deal, especially if it’s a sunny month.

A month apart should give both sides time to do some additional research before they return to the negotiating table. Let’s review what we’ve already learned and then see if we can chart a new course for the talks ahead.

Both sides certainly agree that the education of the city’s children must be everyone’s first concern. If a magic wand could be waved that would instantly eliminate all expenses that don’t help children learn, the only negotiating point would be who gets to wave the wand. We’re all in agreement on that.

The next point of agreement is more a matter of local and historical pride. Our school principals are given wide latitude to run their schools in ways that fit the teachers and the students inside their buildings. This local autonomy has contributed greatly to the vibrant mix of neighborhood and specialty schools that our community enjoys.

With so many different styles and emphases available in our education system, parents can and do choose schools that will increase their child’s learning opportunities.

We love our students and we love our schools. We’d like to see smaller classes, so teachers can give each of their students more attention. Teachers would like more prep time so this attention can be more purposeful and productive.

So the only sticking point is money, but not even that is a real point of disagreement. Both sides want to spend every dollar available on maintaining and improving education quality. Neither side has publicly advocated any sort of tax increase.

Dig a little deeper and it’s clear that the tussle is not over revenue, but expenses. All the money coming in should be spent, but spent on what? Do we want more teachers, but fewer salary increases? Better health care benefits, but fewer teacher aides? Better classroom supply budgets, but more furlough days?

You can see why both sides want to take a break.

Here’s a different way to look at things that might help both sides articulate the priorities that express their core values. In pedagogical terms, creating a diversion can reveal patterns from a new perspective. In language the rest of us understand, it’s easiest to untie a knot by tugging on whatever’s loose.

In 2005, a Utah entrepreneur named Patrick Byrne thought he had developed an elegant equation education reform. He advocated that at least 65 percent of all education revenue be spent in the classrooms. He wanted to lessen what he perceived to be administrative bloat, but his proposal went nowhere. Byrne went back to running overstock.com.

A related idea was floated in California a decade earlier. Reformers there sought to limit school district’s administrative overhead to a fixed percentage of the entire budget. That proposal also went nowhere. Defining who should be counted as an administrator turned out to be difficult.

But identifying where each district employee does their work would be easy. We can build on our tradition of local school autonomy and put our dollars as close to the children as possible. Administration is a key component to an efficient and effective education system, but locating more of that talent in the schools will prevent any “ivory tower” mentality.

So here’s a question for both sides to consider during their July break from negotiations:

What percentage of the school district’s personnel budget has been, is, and should be spent inside its administrative headquarters at 200 N. Monroe Street? Return prepared to discuss.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Simple · You-gene

Are We Losing a Generation to Drinking and Debt?

June 20th, 2014 · No Comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading ... Loading ...

Now that the students have vacated for their summer break, can we have an adult conversation? Higher education is in the middle of a crisis, imperiling an entire generation. It has many apparent causes, but really only one. Not every high school graduate is ready to be treated as an adult. The systems of support and protection that have grown or been built around them require modesty and self-reflection — traits not always associated with teenagers.

Camille Paglia wrote in Time Magazine this spring that we should lower the drinking age to 18 to bring the college drinking culture out of the shadows. Washington Post columnist George Will callously wrote last week that the so-called campus rape epidemic is neither surprising nor undeserved. The compassionate response is surely between these two posts, but finding it will require frank discussions.

Paglia points to European cultures where alcohol isn’t conjoined to teenage rebellion. She reasons that any 18-year-old who can die in a military uniform should also be allowed to drink alcohol while contemplating that. Her argument makes sense until you consider that such cultural trends are made up of millions of individuals’ lives.

My sons’ first pediatrician once sympathized with our frustrations with parenting. He probably overdid it when he said that he wished “children were like pancakes. You should be able to throw out the first ones.” I don’t know whether the good doctor came to work drunk that day or what. I’m sure we all agree that children are not as disposable as pancakes.

Will argues that a culture of entitlement and political correctness has led to an addictive victimhood. Earning respect, in his view, has been deemed difficult — and so beyond the reach — of young people. It’s easier to blame others for what happens to you. Reactions to his column would have been less severe if he had simply insisted that this generation stay off his lawn.

Both Will and Paglia agree that young people seem unable to cope with their freedoms. Our recent imbroglio concerning three male basketball players and a freshman co-ed demonstrates that power is being wielded by those unable or unwilling to weigh all the consequences.

If you believe that exchange was exceptional, I would invite you to visit the 18th Avenue Safeway on a Thursday or Friday afternoon. Listen to the checkout-line banter between the beer-toting students.

Drunkenness has become a rite, but one without a passage.

Drinking and debauchery may seem only like bad weekend choices, except decisions and debt lead to delayed development.

Not very long ago, students received guidance from high school counselors, faculty advisors, and attentive parents. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) disassembled that network. The 1974 law’s intent was to protect students’ privacy, but it’s also shielded college faculty and campus administrators from difficult conversations with concerned parents.

Young people have been left to navigate very adult waters with a still-developing set of emotional, social and cognitive paddles. No wonder they drink.

The average college graduate is leaving school with over $30,000 in debt, often at rates that cannot be renegotiated. Graduate students commonly accumulate $100,000 mortgaged against their future. Bankruptcy offers no protection from most student loan indebtedness. Many young people are altering family or career plans by prioritizing debt reduction.

I’m sorry, but I have to ask. Has this generation internalized the doctor’s pancake metaphor? Are they throwing away their future with an unmarketable degree, social scars from excessive partying, and massive debt?

We have an attractive and inventive university here, so we can push ourselves from difficult discussions to difficult actions. Deans can reward professors who teach popular and important classes on Friday mornings, giving students an academic reason to skip “Thirsty Thursday” specials at local bars.

Faculty advisors can be given new tools and proper incentives to assist students with whatever struggles they face. Our admission packet can include a durable power of attorney form, allowing parents to pierce the FERPA shield and access their child’s academic and financial records.

Nothing less than a complete turnaround will suffice. In pancake parlance, it’s time to flip what’s on the griddle.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

→ No CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Deep · Psycho · You-gene